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Every Block a Village

Summer, 2008

Principle: Start with the petunias

Every Block a Vilage group shotIn 1995, Adell Young was a 58-year-old grandmother living in Chicago's West Side neighborhood of Austin. Working to support her family, she felt isolated from her neighbors because of her children's drug use. "I would go to work and return home ashamed and just was not interested in knowing my neighbors," she said.

Slowly, out of desperation, Young began reaching out to her neighbors. She found many of them felt the same way she did and, by talking to each other, they put a human face on each other's children. Through this interaction, the blank faces on the street began to become people.

Bowl of chili

Emboldened by these new connections, Young and her neighbors took a simple yet brave step: they stood on the street corner and offered bowls of chili to drug dealers. "We let them know that we were not only concerned about our safety, but about them. We prayed for them and offered them food. There was no confrontation, we just hung around them and sometimes we would pray. We showed them love and attention, and after a while they left our block."

These efforts led to the creation of Every Block a Village (EBV), an organizing initiative in Austin that builds relationships among neighbors for mutual support. Supported by the Westside Health Authority, EBV uses the culture and experiences of Austin residents as a base for motivating and mobilizing them to use their assets to solve community problems. In 2001, for example, the group sold catfish dinners and solicited donations to raise $60,000 in seed money for the Austin Wellness Center. When this building opened in 2004, it was the first new building in Austin in 45 years.

Even with such big successes, EBV's focus remains on improving the quality of life for Austin residents through large and small changes. For Young, the most important neigh- borhood improvement happened in her own house. "My home has been drug free for 10 years. It's amazing what neighbors can do when they work together."